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Habitat destruction is the process in which natural habitat is rendered functionally unable to

support the species present. In this process, the organisms that previously used the site are
displaced or destroyed, reducing biodiversity.[1] Habitat destruction by human activity is mainly
for the purpose of harvesting natural resources for industry production and urbanization. Clearing
habitats for agriculture is the principal cause of habitat destruction. Other important causes of
habitat destruction include mining, logging, trawling and urban sprawl. Habitat destruction is
currently ranked as the primary cause of species extinction worldwide.[2] It is a process of natural
environmental change that may be caused by habitat fragmentation, geological processes,
climate change[1] or by human activities such as the introduction of invasive species, ecosystem
nutrient depletion, and other human activities mentioned below.
The terms habitat loss and habitat reduction are also used in a wider sense, including loss of
habitat from other factors, such as water and noise pollution.

n the simplest term, when a habitat is destroyed, the plants, animals, and other organisms that
occupied the habitat have a reduced carrying capacity so that populations decline and extinction
becomes more likely.[3] Perhaps the greatest threat to organisms and biodiversity is the process
of habitat loss.[4] Temple (1986) found that 82% of endangered bird species were significantly
threatened by habitat loss. Endemic organisms with limited ranges are most affected by habitat
destruction, mainly because these organisms are not found anywhere else within the world and
thus, have less chance of recovering. Many endemic organisms have very specific requirements
for their survival that can only be found within a certain ecosystem, resulting in their extinction.
Extinction may take place very long after the destruction of habitat, however, a phenomenon
known as extinction debt. Habitat destruction can also decrease the range of certain organism
populations. This can result in the reduction of genetic diversity and perhaps the production of
infertile youths, as these organisms would have a higher possibility of mating with related
organisms within their population, or different species. One of the most famous examples is the
impact upon China's Giant Panda, once found across the nation. Now it's only found in
fragmented and isolated regions in the south-west of the country, as a result of widespread
deforestation in the 20th Century.[5]
Satellite photograph of deforestation in Bolivia. Originally dry tropical forest, the land is being
cleared for soybean cultivation.[6]
Biodiversity hotspots are chiefly tropical regions that feature high concentrations of endemic
species and, when all hotspots are combined, may contain over half of the worlds terrestrial
species.[7] These hotspots are suffering from habitat loss and destruction. Most of the natural
habitat on islands and in areas of high human population density has already been destroyed
(WRI, 2003). Islands suffering extreme habitat destruction include New Zealand, Madagascar, the
Philippines, and Japan.[8] South and east Asia especially China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia,
and Japan and many areas in West Africa have extremely dense human populations that allow
little room for natural habitat. Marine areas close to highly populated coastal cities also face
degradation of their coral reefs or other marine habitat. These areas include the eastern coasts of
Asia and Africa, northern coasts of South America, and the Caribbean Sea and its associated
Regions of unsustainable agriculture or unstable governments, which may go hand-in-hand,
typically experience high rates of habitat destruction. Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and
the Amazonian tropical rainforest areas of South America are the main regions with unsustainable
agricultural practices or government mismanagement.[8]

Areas of high agricultural output tend to have the highest extent of habitat destruction. In the U.S.,
less than 25% of native vegetation remains in many parts of the East and Midwest.[9] Only 15%
of land area remains unmodified by human activities in all of Europe.[8]

Habitat destruction caused by humans includes conversion of land to agriculture, urban sprawl,
infrastructure development, and other anthropogenic changes to the characteristics of land.
Habitat degradation, fragmentation, and pollution are aspects of habitat destruction caused by
humans that do not necessarily involve overt destruction of habitat, yet result in habitat collapse.
Desertification, deforestation, and coral reef degradation are specific types of habitat destruction
for those areas (deserts, forests, coral reefs).
Geist and Lambin (2002) assessed 152 case studies of net losses of tropical forest cover to
determine any patterns in the proximate and underlying causes of tropical deforestation. Their
results, yielded as percentages of the case studies in which each parameter was a significant
factor, provide a quantitative prioritization of which proximate and underlying causes were the
most significant. The proximate causes were clustered into broad categories of agricultural
expansion (96%), infrastructure expansion (72%), and wood extraction (67%). Therefore,
according to this study, forest conversion to agriculture is the main land use change responsible
for tropical deforestation. The specific categories reveal further insight into the specific causes of
tropical deforestation: transport extension (64%), commercial wood extraction (52%), permanent
cultivation (48%), cattle ranching (46%), shifting (slash and burn) cultivation (41%), subsistence
agriculture (40%), and fuel wood extraction for domestic use (28%). One result is that shifting
cultivation is not the primary cause of deforestation in all world regions, while transport extension
(including the construction of new roads) is the largest single proximate factor responsible for
Nanjing Road in Shanghai
While the above-mentioned activities are the proximal or direct causes of habitat destruction in
that they actually destroy habitat, this still does not identify why humans destroy habitat. The
forces that cause humans to destroy habitat are known as drivers of habitat destruction.
Demographic, economic, sociopolitical, scientific and technological, and cultural drivers all
contribute to habitat destruction.[15]
Demographic drivers include the expanding human population; rate of population increase over
time; spatial distribution of people in a given area (urban versus rural), ecosystem type, and
country; and the combined effects of poverty, age, family planning, gender, and education status
of people in certain areas.[15] Most of the exponential human population growth worldwide is
occurring in or close to biodiversity hotspots.[7] This may explain why human population density
accounts for 87.9% of the variation in numbers of threatened species across 114 countries,
providing indisputable evidence that people play the largest role in decreasing biodiversity.[17]
The boom in human population and migration of people into such species-rich regions are making
conservation efforts not only more urgent but also more likely to conflict with local human
interests.[7] The high local population density in such areas is directly correlated to the poverty
status of the local people, most of whom lacking an education and family planning.[16]
From the Geist and Lambin (2002) study described in the previous section, the underlying driving
forces were prioritized as follows (with the percent of the 152 cases the factor played a significant
role in): economic factors (81%), institutional or policy factors (78%), technological factors (70%),
cultural or socio-political factors (66%), and demographic factors (61%). The main economic
factors included commercialization and growth of timber markets (68%), which are driven by
national and international demands; urban industrial growth (38%); low domestic costs for land,

labor, fuel, and timber (32%); and increases in product prices mainly for cash crops (25%).
Institutional and policy factors included formal pro-deforestation policies on land development
(40%), economic growth including colonization and infrastructure improvement (34%), and
subsidies for land-based activities (26%); property rights and land-tenure insecurity (44%); and
policy failures such as corruption, lawlessness, or mismanagement (42%). The main
technological factor was the poor application of technology in the wood industry (45%), which
leads to wasteful logging practices. Within the broad category of cultural and sociopolitical factors
are public attitudes and values (63%), individual/household behavior (53%), public unconcern
toward forest environments (43%), missing basic values (36%), and unconcern by individuals
(32%). Demographic factors were the in-migration of colonizing settlers into sparsely populated
forest areas (38%) and growing population density a result of the first factor in those areas
There are also feedbacks and interactions among the proximate and underlying causes of
deforestation that can amplify the process. Road construction has the largest feedback effect,
because it interacts withand leads tothe establishment of new settlements and more people,
which causes a growth in wood (logging) and food markets.[16] Growth in these markets, in turn,
progresses the commercialization of agriculture and logging industries. When these industries
become commercialized, they must become more efficient by utilizing larger or more modern
machinery that often are worse on the habitat than traditional farming and logging methods.
Either way, more land is cleared more rapidly for commercial markets. This common feedback
example manifests just how closely related the proximate and underlying causes are to each
n most cases of tropical deforestation, three to four underlying causes are driving two to three
proximate causes.[16] This means that a universal policy for controlling tropical deforestation
would not be able to address the unique combination of proximate and underlying causes of
deforestation in each country.[16] Before any local, national, or international deforestation policies
are written and enforced, governmental leaders must acquire a detailed understanding of the
complex combination of proximate causes and underlying driving forces of deforestation in a
given area or country.[16] This concept, along with many other results about tropical deforestation
from the Geist and Lambin study, can easily be applied to habitat destruction in general.
Governmental leaders need to take action by addressing the underlying driving forces, rather
than merely regulating the proximate causes. In a broader sense, governmental bodies at a local,
national, and international scale need to emphasize the following:
Considering the many irreplaceable ecosystem services provided by natural habitats
Protecting remaining intact sections of natural habitat
Educating the public about the importance of natural habitat and biodiversity
Developing family planning programs in areas of rapid population growth
Finding ways to increase agricultural output than simply increasing the total land in production
Preserving habitat corridors to minimize prior damage from fragmented habitats.
Reduce human population and expansion